What separates good and bad communities?
In Forsyth County, a group of volunteers has been working about three years to answer that question and find ways to measure quality of life.
The Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce's Quality of Life Council is made up of about 18 volunteers from various areas of the community.
"It's very rare to find communities doing anything like this," said James McCoy, a council member and president of the chamber.
"Most communities will talk about quality of life. But what will really separate us is that we're not just talking about it, but we'll be able to actually define and measure our quality of life."
The council was formed as a result of the chamber's Envision 2030 process, which through meetings and surveys in 2007 gave residents a chance to share their desires for Forsyth's future.
"Envision 2030 called for a council of representatives from a cross section of our community to document and measure quality of life," McCoy said.
The council has met about once a month since early 2008. Its first action was to survey residents on quality of life.
"We had about 800 people to respond," McCoy said. "From there, we narrowed down their answers into like areas. We came up with about a dozen areas that are important to people in Forsyth County."
Those areas ranged from transportation and public safety to strong schools and health care.
In the months since, the council has met with stakeholders from each of the areas to determine concrete measures.
Terry Smith, a lifelong resident who serves on the council, said the group is now charged with determining "a baseline of different measures."
"We'll draw up a report for each area that shows where we are now and then every year to two years we'll go back and review the statistics to see where we are," he said.
"The Quality of Life Council doesn't have any power to change anything. We're hoping those involved in each area will say, 'We're not going too good here,' or 'We need to put more effort into this.'"
McCoy said the council's final reports likely will be complete by fall.
Smith noted that the findings will be "excellent sales tools" for attracting business and industry.
"There's only two or three of these councils around the nation, at least that we're aware of," Smith said. "It's almost a novel idea.
"If we can pull this off and keep going with it, it'll be a real feather in Forsyth County's cap."